The Flash S03E09 “The Present” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky1 on Tuesdays at 8pm
Writers: Aaron Helbing, Todd Helbing (story); Lauren Certo (teleplay)
Director: Rachel Talalay
Essential Plot Points:
- It’s Christmas and HR decorates everything!
- Team Flash learns that Julian once wrote a dissertation about the Brahmastra, or Philosopher’s Stone, which looks sneakily similar to the stone Alchemy uses to create metas.
- Barry challenges Julian about his and he admits that he once squandered his inheritance looking for the Brahmastra, to no avail. (He’s lying. We saw that he found it in India in the opening scene.)
- Barry travels to Earth-3 to enlist Jay Garrick’s help – he puts the Earth-3 Trickster out-of-action while he’s there too, for good measure.
- Jay return to Barry’s Earth and fills him in on Savitar from myths and legends he’s heard via the speed force: Savitar was the first speedster, transformed by the Brahmastra; he doesn’t suffer other speedsters challenging his supremacy. He has become the God of Speed. Before Savitar graces an Earth with his presence he sends a predecessor to prepare for his arrival. He’s clearly come to this Earth because he’s become aware of Barry.
- Barry and Jay locate Alchemy and his brethren, and attack them to lure Savitar out of hiding. Jay battles Savitar while Barry deals with Alchemy.
- Barry easily defeats Alchemy – knocking him unconscious – and places his Philosopher’s Stone back in its special box, causing Savitar to vanish. If the stone is in the box, Savitar cannot gain entry into out world.
- Barry removes Alchemy’s mask to discover that he’s Julian
- Barry and Jay take the box and Julian back to STARLabs. They put Julian in a cell in the pipeline (of course, outlet 52 is available again).
- When Julian wakes up he utterly denies that he’s Alchemy. Team Flash all believe that Julian believes what he’s saying – so he must have moments when Alchemy takes over.
- Barry gains Julian’s trust by revealing his real identity to him. Julian admits he’s been having blackouts ever since his sister died and her “ghost” lead him to the Philosopher’s Stone.
- The boffins as STARLabs rig up a device that will induce Julian to have a blackout so they can talk to Savitar.
- Savitar gives them some dire warnings about the future (one of them will die, another will betray the others) and promises to take back everything Barry took from him, and then he’ll kill him.
- Savitar tries to get back into out world by making Cisco hallucinate his dead brother, pleading for Cisco to open the box. Caitlin talks Cisco down.
- Because thePhilosopher’s Stone can’t be destroyed Team Flash decides to lob it into the Speed Force (that’s a terribly limited out of sight, out of mind way of thinking, isn’t it?).
- Barry, with Jay’s help, runs fast enough to throw the Philosopher’s Stone into the Speed Force but in doing so has a glimpse five months into the future… and sees Savitar killing Iris!
- Jay drags Barry back into the present and tells him that the future isn’t fixed – Iris doesn’t have to die.
- Barry decides not to tell Iris, but the vision has made him appreciate the he should make the most of the present rather than worry about the future. So he secretly signs a lease on a new flat in both his and Iris’s names then reveals what he’s done as his Christmas present for her; now they can live together.
- Meanwhile, HR has been training Wally, and at one point in the episode Wally prevents Barry being killed by Savitar. Even Joe is convinced now that he has to let his son be a hero. So they all band together and buy him a new costume (which looks suspiciously worn in, to be honest…)
Aw, sweet. One thing we weren’t expecting with this midseason finale was no cliffhanger. Sure, there are enough dangling plot threads to render part two of the season as a Bayeux-style tapestry, but there was no direct tease. There wasn’t even a final stinger. Go on, admit it – after the scene with Barry and Iris kissing you were expecting one more scene with a big twist.
But no. This episode was called “The Present” and while that could refer to Wally’s new supersuit or Barry and Iris’s new apartment, it clearly has a double meaning; Jay spends most of the episode urging Barry to live in the present and not spend his time worrying about the future. So it’s apt for the episode to end firmly in the present for once and not with a tease for future episodes.
Structurally, this is an odd one. Not quite Empire Strikes Back odd but nearly; the main battle is in the middle, not right at the start. But after Barry has expelled Savitar from out world and stuck the Philosopher’s Stone in its safe box, the rest of the episode is pretty much problem solving, foreshadowing and sweet character moments full of Christmas cheer. That the ending doesn’t feel like an anticlimax is a feat in itself, but the vision of Iris’s death five months in the future gives the second half of the episode dramatic clout it needs. And the lengthy Christmas scene is just so goddamned sweet you can forgive it any self-indulgence. Besides, Christmas is all about self-indulgence, isn’t it Tenth Doctor and your ten million goodbye scenes?
There are some questions about the Savitar plot that are slightly mystifying, though. If he is so powerful, how come he needs this Philosopher’s Stone to enter our world. Barry seems to be able to dimension jump at a relative jog so how come Savitar can’t? Is this something that future Barry has done to him? Perhaps, but the implication from Jay’s “legends and myths” speech is that the Philosopher’s Stone shtick has been Savitar’s MO since the beginning. Hopefully this is a deliberate mystery and not just a handy piece of scripting jiggery-pokery to stop Savitar being too powerful. Also, who built the safe box? Our money is on Team Flash and we’ll see Barry taking it into the past in some future episode.
Savitar’s BIG FORESHADOWING SCENE also casts a tense, doomy web over the second half the episode. You have to assume the death he’s talking about is Iris’s but we would bet on it in this time-twisty show. And who’s going to be the traitor? Clearly HR is in the frame, but that’s too obvious, isn’t it?
As we predicted, Julian didn’t turn out to simply be Doctor Alchemy; he actually wasn’t aware that he was being used as Savitar’s vessel. We’re glad about this, especially because Tom Felton is great in this episode, making Julian a much more sympathetic character while still making the most of some wonderfully indignant dialogue. You have to love the way he demands a phone call when Team Flash imprisons him in the pipeline. It actually seems possible he could be considering calling Amnesty as we’ve been urging people to do since season one of this show. Someone really should challenge Team Flash on this habit…
And hopefully the “Wally, don’t be a hero” is at an end after three weeks of running on the spot. Though now Joe’s happy to let his son off the leash, how long before he’s going to regret that decision? (And for what it’s worth, our money is on Wally as the traitor.)
- This dance…
- The entire “Christmas” epilogue, from pissed HR, to flirty Joe, to Caitlin letting it snow, letting it snow, letting it snow, to – of course – Barry’s present for Iris, it was the kind of heartwarming schmaltz that you’ve gotta just love at Christmas.
- Julian’s suit was well sharp too…
- Our first glimpse of Earth-3. You can never go wrong with steampunky airships.
- We love the way Julian doesn’t gets past 10 when he’s asked to count down into his blackout, and that Savitar takes him over before Team Barry has a time to wonder how long they’ll have to wait. Usually scenes such as these are drawn out for tension, so this was a pleasant and amusing change. Plus, Felton’s proving great at light comedy. Any chance he’ll stick around for a while?
- Okay, Savitar’s speech about the future was an unashamed bit of foreshadowing, but doomy predictions are a venerable tradition in of sci-fi and fantasy and you can’t help feeling a little spooked:
“No one believes in you.”
“You should, Iris. I hold the power of life and death over all of you. How do you know so much about us? I know you, Caitlin. Cisco, Joe, Wally. The fake Wells. I know your fears and I know your weaknesses. I know you better than you know yourselves. I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you. About your everlasting damnation.”
“Who are you?”
“I am the future, Flash.”
- Oh, and even more now than ever, we’re convinced that final sentence – repeated from a previous episode – actually has no comma in it.
- The Trickster scene didn’t quite work, did it? It was supposed to recall the ’90s series but instead felt like a bad pastiche of ’60s Batman.
- It seems odd that Savitar should start sending Cisco visions of Dante so early in the plot – talk about getting ahead of the game. The scene in which Caitlin brings Cisco back to his senses has some cringeworthy lines and hammy delivery too. Even the usually reliable Carlos Valdes has trouble getting any conviction into dopey lines like, “I will not lose my brother again!”
- It was Jay’s turn to morph into a bendy toy during a fight with Savitar this week.
And The Random:
- When Barry travels into the future he arrives at Infantino Street. This is a reference to legendary comic book artist Carmine Infantino, who helped recreate the Flash (introducing the Barry Allen version) for the Silver Age. This Infantino Street is in Central City, obviously, but there’s also a road named after him in Star City; we know this because in the season three Arrow episode “The Brave And The Bold” (the second part of a crossover with The Flash) Oliver and Barry intercept a villain at the corner of “Infantino and Adams” (Neal Adams being another comic book artist).
- Although it’s clearly just a coincidence rather than a deliberate in-joke (Doctor Alchemy has been using the Philosophy Stone in the DC universe for many decades, and we don’t think Tom Felton was cast just for this gag) it’s amusing to hear former Malfoy actor Felton talking about the Philosopher’s Stone. At least The Flash producers didn’t insist on renaming it the Sorcerer’s Stone.
- Julian’s full name is revealed thanks to his dissertation: Julian Albert Desmond. In the comics Doctor Alchemy’s real name is Albert Desmond.
- This is the first time that Jay Garrick and the Trickster have appeared in the same episode together. The actors who played them, John Wesley Shipp and Mark Hamill respectively, were, of course the Flash and the Trickster in the ’90s TV version of The Flash, though Shipp was playing Barry Allen in that show, not Jay Garrick. While both actors have been in the same episode of this latest version of The Flash before (back in season one’s “Tricksters”) Shipp was playing Henry Allen back then.
- The Brahmastra does pre-exist in Hindu mythology as a powerful, destructive weapon created by the god Brahma, but it doesn’t appear to ever been said to have the power to create metas before.
- The energy force coming out of the box in the opening scenes looks so cheekily reminiscent of the forces that emerge from the ark in Raiders Of The Lost Ark that we’re not surprised when Cisco later says, “It’s creepy. Like, Indiana Jones, melt-your-face creepy.” Plus, Julian looks like he’s in Indy cosplay.
- We’re not sure who ended up with the worst Christmas jumper – HR…?
- Or Wally?
- Jared Morillo, AKA Plunder (the guy Barry hears a news report about when he travels into the future) is a character the DC universe. We’ll go into his background in more depth when he appears in the series (which we’re assuming he does).
- Innuendo of the year – they’re not really talking about eggnog, are they?